The city of Wenatchee has a new ordinance which prohibits camping in city parks or on city property if overnight shelter is available in the area. 

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It also prohibits the storage of camping items on city property for extended periods of time. 

City Administrator Laura Gloria says the ordinance is meant to make sure the public has access to places like Locomotive Park.  

"They're not being able to use the public right of way," said Gloria. "And so, the intent of that is to say these actions cannot happen in these places, because not only is it hazardous to the people that are there, but now you are prohibiting the use of these spaces from the public." 

The ordinance is meant to help clear out many homeless encampments on city property and public spaces in Wenatchee. 

Violators can now be charged with a misdemeanor if they refuse to move to an available overnight shelter. 

"If there is space available, then we can go ahead and enforce that if they are still unwilling to at that point in time," Gloria said. "That's, kind of, the full intent of it." 

The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and/or $1,000 fine. Police can choose another means to get people off city property by barring them from the space for a period of time if they are engaged in any civil or criminal infraction, such as having stolen property or comsuming illegal drugs.

The ordinance will apply to people who stay in one place for more than 24 hours. It also applies to parking a trailer, camper, or other vehicle and remaining in that parked location for 24 consecutive hours.

The ability to penelize people who violate the ordinance could hit some snags. Wenatchee Police Chief Steve Crown told city councilors the Chelan County Jail will often turn away the booking of homeless people because of a lack of space. Crown and city staff said the ordinance would hopefully serve as a deterrent to people from camping on city pproperty. 

The ordinance essentially builds on a code section the city adopted in 2008 which allows camping on city property with an approved permit or in designated camping areas.  

Camping has been permitted historically for larger events such as the Apple Capital and Starlight Swim Meets, bicycle tour groups and Fire Incident Response teams, as well as occasional small one-time activities. 

The new ordinance was approved by the Wenatchee City Council Thursday night and will go into effect in 30 days from that time. 

A U.S. Supreme Court decision expected in the coming days could change the scope of what cities are allowed to do with homeless people.  

The court heard arguments in the case of Grants Pass v. Johnson, on whether a city can fine or jail homeless people for sleeping outside. 

Grants Pass, Oregon passed a law that allowed it to fine homeless nearly $300 for illegally camping on public property, with jail and additional fines facing repeat offenders. 

A federal court in 2022 found that the law violated 8th Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment if there aren’t enough shelter beds. 

The new Wenatchee ordinance complies with the 2022 court decision. 

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Gallery Credit: Reesha Cosby

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